Own what you know and own what you don’t know, from Folaranmi Afolayan

Theatre artist Folaranmi Afolayan was one of three recipients of a summer residency through 1812 Productions' Jilline Ringle Solo Performance Program, supporting the work of solo female performance artists across a variety of disciplines. Afolayan worked with collaborator Christina May on Diaspora Crossroads, which began its process at Louisiana State University. The child of an African American mother and Nigerian father, Afolayan explores the places where cultures intersect in the African Diaspora.

I walked into the room planner in hand with my all black on ready to focus on “the work.” Conservatory style. Initially, I had plans to implement a dance into the show or work on writing 20 more minutes worth of material. There was also characterization that needed work so I was ready to come into the space and make time to focus on the nuances of the show.  I knew that I had a week so there was only so much I could focus on, but I still wanted to do it all! I wanted to be the “serious artist” who sweats in the studio for seven hours and ends the week with a profound piece of work.  However, with the guidance of my collaborator and director Christina May, the week took a radical turn.

Ritual, ritual, ritual. That was the word running through my mind as I planned for the week.  I wanted to explore how ritual could be expanded in the show. I have always been fascinated with intersection theater, history and cultural practices. As Christina May and I began to brainstorm in the studio, there was a shift in our exploration. After a lengthy conversation with my father (who in many ways served as the dramaturge for the week), we decided to look at the show through an educational lens.   “If Diaspora Crossroads was cut open, what would it look like on the inside?” This question served as our foundation for the week.

The sharing of our work for the week evolved into an interactive workshop. The workshop was divided into three sections: Name, Honor, and Ritual of Remembrance. I shared how to pronounce my names with the participants, the meaning behind my names, and the history of my ancestors who I explore in Diaspora Crossroads.  I also shared the word Ase, which is a Yoruba word meaning “and so it is”.  Furthermore, it is an affirmation to the universe.  Ase is also the life force that connects us to each other and divinity. We said Ase after we remembered ancestors or loved ones who have transitioned.  We ended the presentation by collectively honoring Jilline Ringle and her legacy. It was beautiful. Ase.

Sharing with the other artists and collaborators created a safe space to give and receive feedback.  I was honored to share space with them and witness the evolution of their work. The artist’s support for one another was palpable from the first day. I ended the residency with more confidence in my show Diaspora Crossroads and my ability to serve as an artist, educator, and facilitator.  The pressure to be as an anthropologist and historian left me as I began to focus on what I know. “Own what you know and own what you don’t know,” Christina May said to me with a radiant smile. I can carry that with me in any space I enter now. Thank you once again to 1812 Productions for an incredible experience!

Promo video for Folaranmi Afolayan's Diaspora Crossroads.